thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

Post-Post-Modern, Post-Post-9-11: Star Trek Into Darkness

In feminism, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on May 21, 2013 at 9:46 pm
Sarah S.
Let’s get this complaint out of the way directly: the use of female characters in J. J. Abrams’ second offering in the rebooted Star Trek franchise is sigh-worthy at best, probably more like eye-rolling and groan-worthy, and possibly even merits serious hair pulling. Zoe Saldana is still awesome as Uhura in Star Trek Into Darkness but her interesting updates, including linguistic genius and unwavering confidence, are undercut in this movie by her damsel-in-distress situations. Speaking of “damsels-in-distress,” Alice Eve’s Dr. Carol Marcus (presented on IMDB as simply “Carol”) represents yet another female character who’s good on paper and easy on the eyes but doesn’t offer much but a way to nix any *ahem* suggestions of sexual tension between Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto). Point, match, feminists.
That said, for all those who have been complaining that Abrams’ Star Trek isn’t “Star Trek” enough: you’re nuts! In this flick, perhaps even more than the first, Star Trek returns to its philosophical roots of exploring what it means to be human and how we strive to be the best iteration of that humanness. And yet, obviously, this is not your father’s Star Trek. It’s so filled with Easter eggs its villain is the biggest one of all (also: worst kept secret ever) while its loving nods to the preceding mythology temper any sense of snark or unending, frivolous “play.” Indeed, the film’s self-awareness of its changed universe is so meta, and yet so well-conceived in its own right, that it transcends post-modernism and becomes, what? Something that gets beyond that circling anxiety, frivolity, and/or simulacra of traditional post-modernism and into something that mingles our contemporary fears for the future (aka, obsessions with apocalypse), loves for nostalgia and technology, and twinging hopes that extraordinary individuals—particularly if they work in tandem—may be able to improve the world.

The End of Men: And the Rise of Intense Conversation

In books, class, feminism, gender, misogyny, Uncategorized on November 19, 2012 at 6:18 am

Sarah S.

Men are over. O-V-E-R. Or so says Hanna Rosin—journalist, author, founder of Slate’s woman-centric blog “Double X,” and mother to a son she worries about and a daughter that thrives. In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Rosin claims that patriarchy is deader than J.R. Women have won, men are in decline, and the only reason we (women, men, Americans, global citizens, etc.) don’t recognize this fact is because the reality is far from the egalitarian utopia our second-wave foremothers promised.

Rosin’s premise incited quite the conversation among feminists, including Stephanie Coontz, who takes umbrage at the notion that women’s successes equal men’s decline, and Emily Blazelon and Liz Schwartz, who defend Rosin’s premise and methodology. Regardless of where one falls on this issue (or one’s gender), it’s an important conversation to have for several reasons.

One, it makes feminists quite uncomfortable; if women have actually “won,” and the world is still a cultural cesspool riddled with inequality, then are women just replacing their male overlords? Is a matriarchy doomed to be just as distasteful as a patriarchy?

Second, if newly dominant women dislike the world we see, what do we do about it? How can we take this newfound power out for a spin and see what it can do for universal equality and global improvement? If nothing else, how can we avoid turning the men that we love—husbands, sons, partners, brothers, gay boyfriends—into a new underclass?

Third, are Rosin and her ilk dead wrong? Does Rosin selectively order information in such a way as to make her case while not accounting for real and ongoing gender inequality? Further, does she account enough for race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in her assessment?

These and other questions are so important that I was excited to have a conversation with members of Girls Like Giants about the book. Alas, most of our crew were too busy dominating the world to read and respond to the book in a timely manner. So the weighty task of leading this discussion fell to me—your humble narrator and hopeful guide.

I would have liked to have had that conversation in order to get into the nuances of Rosin’s argument. Are her uses of individual stories distractingly manipulative or competent ways to humanize the discussion? How about examples from her own biography—honest or smug? And why oh why did she allow a desire to provoke controversy overcrow arguments against such an inflammatory, ultimately lousy title? But beyond these rhetorical choices, Rosin’s main point matters to any thinking person as she articulates a profound, unshakeable shift in the makeup of our world.

However, I don’t want to just review the book or to give a rundown of my thoughts on it. If nothing else, I’m too conflicted by the argument, and frustrated by Rosin’s way of making it, to venture an objective opinion. I thought that, instead, I would briefly summarize each chapter of the book and then open it up for discussion. I’ve also included a series of links at the bottom that highlight some of the conversation that’s gone on surrounding Rosin’s work. After reading the following, what say you? Have we really reached “the end of men”?

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Brave New World: Skyfall

In body politics, Film, gender, spoilers, Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 at 10:58 am

Bob Mondello at NPR opens his review of Skyfall with an important point about these newest editions to the James Bond franchise. Any Jason Bourne can engage in stunningly athletic chases and fist fights. But only Bond will use a backhoe to open the roof of a train car, jump in, and…check his cufflinks before continuing the pursuit. Mondello’s key argument is that the people behind Daniel Craig’s star turn as the quintessential super spy get it, that magic that makes Bond Bond and not Bourne.

But having said that, this is not your father’s or your grandmother’s James Bond. From the “beginning,” with Casino Royale, this Bond seemed grittier, younger, able to kill a man with his bare hands and then visibly squelch his emotions. It helped that the folks behind the reboot hired quality actors and turned the focus off of gadgets and onto characters while maintaining Bond’s swagger and style. But a focus on characters forces another change, pushing our hero and those who surround him into something like actual humans in this modern world. These creators embrace a female “M,” using the talented Judy Dench as a believable figure not a politically correct giggle. Skyfall builds on this trend, proving this character-driven Bond is not a fluke. And while Skyfall does interesting things with its women, particularly M, it is in the redefinition of modern masculinity that the reboot makes it greatest contribution.

***Spoilers after the jump***

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Wizarding Squibbs Have More Magic than “Magic Mike”

In feminism, Film, gender, Uncategorized on July 10, 2012 at 9:02 am

Sarah S.

Magic Mike may be the first mainstream (and critically-acclaimed, no less) movie about male strippers (of the Chippendales variety) but this is a story you’ve seen before. However, last time you saw it the protagonist was female. You know the kind: small town, down-on-her-luck girl gets seduced by the glamor and easy money of [insert your disreputable activity here] only to crash into its seedy underbelly and either escape her problematic position to pursue her “real” dream (acting, singing, marriage+babies, etc.) or b. serve as a cautionary tale as she falls into her doom (i.e. see Burlesque [2011] and Showgirls [1995]).

*spoilers warning* (And no, I don’t mean that there’s lots of abs. You already knew that).

Magic Mike shares many features of this plot. First, we have  the “dream” component; Mike, played by Channing Tatum, tells everyone he meets that he’s an “entrepreneur” because he ultimately wants to be a furniture designer. Second, there is the older, world-weary, semi-reputable mentor, in this case played by Matthew McConaughey as Dallas, the owner of the club where Mike works. Third, we have the oft-seen love triangle between a creep who fails to respect (an important point) the protagonist and the “tough love” person the protagonist is clearly meant to be with; Mike has a casual relationship with a bisexual psychology student (Olivia Munn) but discovers that she only wants him for his body and has no interest in him as a person. When Mike discovers she has a fiancé, he becomes open to the possibility of a relationship with no nonsense Brooke (Cody Horn). Last, we have both of this plot’s endings represented, first in Mike—who escapes the club world, regains his self-respect, and gets the girl—and “the Kid” (Alex Pettyfer)—who Mike brings into the world of stripping and who falls down the rabbit hole of promiscuity, drugs, and easy money.  See what I’m saying? You’ve seen this movie before.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Magic Mike—certainly more than the shirtlessness or even the plot itself—is the switching of this generic plot from a female protagonist to a male one. We’ve seen this done the other way around. Sigourney Weaver usurps the action hero’s place in the Alien franchise and Thelma and Louise and Boys on the Side riff on the buddy travel flick. But it’s less common to see a male protagonist inserted (ahem) into the female plot. Thus, even though Magic Mike is entirely generic in all but its dancing scenes it still feels significant in the history of cinema.

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Replay: Drake’s HYFR featuring Lil’ Wayne

In music videos, Replay on April 11, 2012 at 1:00 pm

Sarah T.

Jews and rapping aren’t necessarily the first pairing that comes to mind. But Drake’s new music video “HYFR,” featuring Lil’ Wayne, is proof positive that the two go together like matzoh balls and soup or wine and Passover.

Let’s start with how happy Drake looks. Mazel tov, friend! He’s so glad to be hoisted on a chair during Hava Nagila and have his best friend in attendance wearing a panda mask.  As Rembert Browne at Grantland points out, Drake has never seemed as relaxed as he does in this video, which honors his multicultural heritage and both Jewish and hip-hop cultures. He seems truly comfortable with himself, and I think that has to do not just with celebrating his background but also with coming out as an honest-to-goodness loveable dork of a rapper.

Hip-hop’s masculinity imperative is a straightjacket for artists who have range beyond guns-drugs-and-girls. It’s never been a great fit for Drake, even with his lady’s man soft sell on toughness: his voice is a bit nasal, his expressions tend toward puppyish even when he’s trying to look badass, and of course he’s also Jimmy from Degrassi, which makes him fun but not very imposing. This video is all about Drake embracing his own dorkiness, from the goofy premise to that shot of him happily chatting a pal’s ear off to his owl sweater to that amazing picture-cake to his open-mouthed beaming as he jumps around with his arm slung around various buddies.

I’m actually getting kind of emotional writing about this, because the video is hilarious but it’s also kind of a big deal, what Drake’s doing. He’s confident enough about himself and his acceptance in the hip-hop community that he doesn’t need to front; he can own this bar mitzvah. And it’s also important that his hip-hop friends—Lil’ Wayne, DJ Khaled, Trey Songz–are in attendance, supporting him and celebrating his Jewish heritage.  Historically there’s been an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in a lot of celebrated hip-hop—even my beloved Jay-Z has tossed off some problematic lines about Jewish folk. So it means a lot that Drake made this video, and that the hip-hop community turned out for it.

Also, little Drake at his first bar mitzvah is ridiculously adorable.

What are your thoughts on Drizzy’s time-honored celebration of his transition from Boy to Man? Let us know in the comments.

This post is part of a new weekly column, “Replay,” where we respond to music videos. Sometimes they’ll be new, sometimes they’ll be old, and sometimes they will just be ones we love. Drop us a line at girlslikegiants@gmail.com if you have a music video you think we should feature here.

Previously: Azealia Banks’ awesome first video “L8R.”

GLG Weekly Round-up

In gender, race, reproductive health, Uncategorized, Weekly Round-Up, Women's health on March 9, 2012 at 6:56 am

This week, we have a variety of good reads from around the web including, but not limited to, reactions to the stop Kony campaign, Tim Wise on race & white resentment, and an article on masculinity and The Hunger Games (go Peeta!). Have a great weekend!

Tim Wise on his new book and white resentment: http://www.truth-out.org/dear-white-america-letter-new-minority/1330718926

Arturo Garcia on the problems with Invisible Children’s Stop Kony campaign, at Racialicious: http://www.racialicious.com/2012/03/08/stopkony-activism-or-exploitation/#more-20984

Jessica Winter at Time Magazine and “Are women people?:” http://ideas.time.com/2012/03/07/subject-for-debate-are-women-people/

Two fun articles from Bitch Magazine … One on Cynthia Nixon and the politics of labels:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/visibility-cynthia-nixon-and-the-politics-of-labels-bisexuality-feminism

And one on The Hunger Games and masculinity:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/the-rebel-warrior-and-the-boy-with-the-bread-gale-peeta-and-masculinity-in-the-hunger-games

Lastly, a super-cool interview with Jennifer Egan about the days before she made it as a writer:
http://www.thedaysofyore.com/jennifer-egan/

The Feminist’s Dilemma

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

Sarah S.

Today, Slate posted on article on “Hollywood’s New Beefcakes.” In it, authors and note that “Hollywood always likes to keep a few beefcakes around for use in its big action pictures and romances” and they grade the newest crop accordingly. (It’s worth clicking on the main link to the article to see their graphic, which includes hover-overs for each celebrity situated on top of what part of the cow they represent; I could not snag an image of it for this post.) Taylor Lautner, Twilight hunk, gets Rump Roast and grade of “C” for his “bland acting,” revealing him to be “just a rump, perhaps beef’s least flavorful cut.” Ryan Gosling, on the other hand, gets deemed grade “A” beef, Mock Tender, for being “more interested in subverting his hearthrob dreaminess than in perpetuating it.” Channing Tatum, Chris Pine, Jake Gyllenhall, Ryan Reynolds, and others also make the “cut.”

Image

Here’s my dilemma: If someone did something similar comparing fresh, young starlets to cuts of beef (or any other food item) I would be appalled. All my feminist hairs would stand on end, inflamed with righteous indignation at this objectification of women, this reduction of women to only their bodies. It’s because of such responses that a magazine such as Slate would never publish that article. Why is it okay, then, to reduce these men to meat and not do the same for their female counterparts?

One response is that such an objectification of men subverts a patriarchal paradigm, putting men into a “feminized” position and claiming the traditionally male power of “the gaze” for (straight) women (and gay men). It’s okay because men still enjoy more power and privilege so cannot be problematically hurt by their alignment with beef.

One might counter, however, that such a reduction of any human being to solely their physical self is a problem. And we can see that it’s problem given the rising instances of male anorexia and other signs of body obsession in young men. No human should be viewed so reductively.

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The Anti-Stereotype Squad of “Happy Endings”

In gender on February 25, 2012 at 10:38 am

Sarah Todd

When the ABC sitcom Happy Endings first premiered last year, many critics compared it to Friends. Both comedies feature six friends–three guys and three girls–in their mid-to-late twenties who live in a major urban city (Chicago and New York). Both pilot episodes feature a runaway bride whose actions shake up the group dynamic and set the show in motion.

But beyond these superficial similarities, Happy Endings is funnier, smarter, and far more complex. Its often absurd plots center around competitions to determine who’d be the final survivor in a zombie apocalypse and solemn interventions to break a friend of his debilitating addiction to V-necks.

Happy Endings also differs from Friends in its diversity. It’s a show that recognizes the reality that people of various racial backgrounds and sexual orientations might well find themselves living in a major city and hanging out together.

Happy Endings acknowledges difference without falling into the trap of making a minority racial background or sexual orientation a character’s sole defining trait. Brad (Damon Wayons Jr.) is black and Max (Adam Pally) is gay. These identities are a part of their characters, and the show’s dialogue and plots frequently explore what it’s like for Brad and Max to be black and gay, respectively, within their group of friends and in the broader world. But the show also makes them well-developed characters who are many things in addition to these identities. Brad is a delightfully enthusiastic investment banker with a penchant for men’s fashion, romantic comedies, and making out with his wife Jane (Eliza Coupe). Max is a sarcastic and cynical layabout who spent all of last week’s episode transforming into a bear, in a kind of extreme advertisement for the dangers of seasonal affective disorder. (He hibernates in a pile of blankets and gets his head stuck in a honey jar. It Could Happen to You, winter-friends.)

Max evolves into a literal bear-Zach Galifianakis hybrid.

Happy Endings seems interested in creating characters who go beyond defying stereotypes and enter the realm of the anti-stereotype. For example, Penny (Casey Wilson) calls Max “a straight dude who likes dudes” because his messy, gruff, video game- and sandwich-loving personality goes against her idea of what gay men are (or should be) like. He’s so far from the stereotype that his personality actually seems oppositional to it. A first-season episode highlights this point. When Penny tells Max he’s “the worst gay husband ever” because he’d rather watch football than go shopping and brunching, Max finds her a gay best friend who’s more in line with her conceit. Derek is a fun-loving, official Sassy Gay Friend, right down to calling Penny “a stupid clumsy bitch.” (He gets introduced to Penny in this scene at the 30-second mark.) Read the rest of this entry »

The Allure of Ryan Gosling: Drive

In gender, Uncategorized on February 16, 2012 at 11:29 am

Sarah S.

Where did Ryan Gosling come from? I mean, I know he was a Mouseketeer and that he turned a couple heads in The United States of Leland and The Notebook. Even still, he seemed to come out of nowhere with Half Nelson, having undergone a foggy transformation from burgeoning boy-wonder to serious thespian. He has since been cultivating a persona built upon a precious (pretentious?) commitment to avant-garde idealism, a dryly humorous willingness to mock Hollywood, and an outrageous-yet-dapper personal style. Also, abs. His counterparts are James Franco and the late Heath Ledger. Yet while Franco’s antics seem more and more annoying (and Ledger’s death more and more tragic) Gosling’s star continues to rise and rise and rise. So, again, where did Ryan Gosling come from? Wherefore lies his particular allure?

Gosling has been slowly perfecting a unique filmic masculinity that hearkens back to Clint Eastwood and John Wayne while feeling entirely fresh and new at the same time. His characters are usually reticent, incapable of or unwilling to be expressive, to share their inner souls. He specializes in blank, enigmatic looks that make you want to swoon-scream: “What are you thinking?” Even his extraordinarily verbose husband in Blue Valentine seemed to speak only because he desperately wanted to know what his wife was feeling and yet equally desperately could not hear what she said. He seems untouchable, un-get-at-able. He’s the opposite of the tortured, emo, vampire boys, the Louises and Edwards and Bills and Stefans, with their obsession with endlessly reporting their tortured, eternal angst. Yet like them he also seems out of time, specializing in films that look set in an earlier time but aren’t (Half Nelson, Lars and the Real Girl, Blue Valentine, Drive). Gosling’s filmic masculinity hits its apex in Drive, with a character so mysterious he does not even have a name; he’s only know as Driver. Read the rest of this entry »

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